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10 candidates to top DiMaggio's streak

July 13, 2016

On this date 75 years ago, Joe DiMaggio was nearing the end of his legendary 56-game hitting streak, which began on May 15, 1941, and ended when he went hitless on July 17.Given the fact that the mark has stood for three-quarters of a century and no one else has

On this date 75 years ago, Joe DiMaggio was nearing the end of his legendary 56-game hitting streak, which began on May 15, 1941, and ended when he went hitless on July 17.
Given the fact that the mark has stood for three-quarters of a century and no one else has gotten past 44 games since then, it is considered by many to be an "unbreakable record."
Joe DiMaggio's run to 56: Rewriting the record
But for the sake of this exercise, let's assume that it is possible to have a 57-game hitting streak, because, of course, it is possible. So which current player has the best chance of pulling it off? Let's do the math.
To find out, we'll look at both talent and opportunity, the batters who excel at getting hits and those who strut to the plate most often. We start by looking at how frequently each hitter has had different numbers of plate appearances this year. (I've eliminated games with fewer than three plate appearances, as these midgame entries and exits likely wouldn't happen during a streak.) For every number of plate appearances, we used each player's Steamer-projected batting line, to figure out how likely they were to get at least one hit.
Using this method for Jose Altuve, we see the following:
Altuve's Steamer-projected batting line

When Altuve has four plate appearances, Steamer gives him a 74.0 percent chance of a hit. And when he has five plate appearances Steamer gives him an 81.4 percent chance of a hit.
On average, Altuve has a 78.0 percent chance of getting a hit on a given day. (Fun fact: This is almost identical to the 77.8 percent of games in which DiMaggio got a hit over the course of his career.)
We can take this probability and derive Altuve's chance of getting a hit on each of the next 56 days simply by raising it to the 56th power. The answer is less than one-in-a-million. For the sake of simplicity, we're assuming that Altuve is always just Altuve, never "hot" or "cold" and ignoring the effects of parks and even different pitchers.

Now, those "one-in-a-million" odds refer to Altuve's chances of getting a hit in his next 56 games. If we calculate the odds of him getting having a 56-game streak anywhere within a 162-game span, the odds are a bit more in his favor: 45,000-to-1.
The extreme improbability of a 56-game streak has the effect of focusing the probability on a few players. According to this model, if someone does break the streak, there's roughly a 20 percent chance that it will be Altuve, the most likely candidate, and almost an 80 percent chance that it will be one of the 10-best candidates shown below.
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Fact is, the odds against any Major League player beating the streak within a given season are 9,000-to-1, making 56 games not just unlikely to be matched this year, but unlikely to be matched in a full century of years like this one. This model predicts that we would see one hit streak of 30 or more games roughly every four years, and, indeed, we've seen four such streaks in the first 16 years of this century.
Based solely on the numbers, here are the 10 players with the best odds of a 56-game hit streak within any 162-game stretch.
1. Altuve (odds against: 45,000-to 1)
Batting primarily leadoff has given Altuve the third-most plate appearances, and according to our calculations, he has the 19th-most favorable distribution of plate appearances across games. He trails, among others, three Cubs and three Red Sox players, whose teams cycle through the lineup more often.
It's also important to remember the role that walks play in all of this. In 2015, Joey Votto hit .314 and Altuve hit .313 in an almost identical number of plate appearances. However, Altuve had 29 more hits because he walks a lot less. For the sake of a hitting streak, walks are bad, and Altuve's improved walk rate this year is slightly hurting his chances.

2. Mookie Betts (60,000-to-1)
Betts has the distinct advantage of batting exclusively leadoff for one of the best offenses, making him the most favorably positioned player in the game. That's good enough to rank him second on this list despite only the sixth-highest hit per plate appearance projection.
3. Ben Revere (73,000-to-1)
Revere isn't penalized here for giving way to Michael Taylor on occasion -- his 162-game span might just take a bit longer, and there's no rule that a hit streak must be contained within one season. Revere is the third of six leadoff batters in the top 10, again highlighting the importance of opportunity. He also benefits from being an elite runner while putting the ball in play at the expense of walks and strikeouts.

4. Xander Bogaerts (94,000-to-1)
If Betts and Bogaerts swapped lineup spots, they would also swap positions on this list. Bogaerts, Boston's No. 3 hitter, already has a 26-game hit streak this year -- the second longest of the season, and a mark that no hitter on this list has matched in any season. The longest streak of the year (29 games) belongs to teammate Jackie Bradley Jr., an unlikely candidate due to his combination of a healthy walk rate and a position down in the batting order.
5. Daniel Murphy (176,000-to-1)
Steamer gives Murphy the highest projected rate of hits per plate appearance of any current player. He would place higher on this list if not for hitting in the middle of the lineup rather than at the top. If Murphy were blessed with Betts' plate appearances, Murphy's odds would rocket up to 9,600-to-1 against -- five times better than Altuve's.

6. Miguel Cabrera (351,000-to-1)
Impressively, Cabrera ranks sixth in spite of his many walks, which Steamer projects to take up 12 percent of his plate appearances. The ultimate streak-busting chimera might feature Cabrera's talent, Jean Segura's free-swinging ways and the leadoff spot in a powerhouse offense that plays its home games at Coors.
7. Segura (365,000-to-1)
Segura has the lowest batting average projection on this list, a fairly pedestrian .279. He makes up for this by knowing that you can't walk your way into the record books (at least not with this record), and he is projected to lose only 4 percent of his plate appearances to walks.
8. Charlie Blackmon (405,000-to-1)
While 405,000-to-1 against might not sound like great odds, this actually may be an overestimate of Blackmon's chances. For his career, he has hit .333 at home at Coors Field, but only .249 on the road. On the one hand, Blackmon wouldn't be within shouting distance of this list without his home park. On the other, there's no way to avoid road games in a long hitting streak. If we force Blackmon to play half of his potential streak games on the road, his odds fall to 624,000-to-1 against.

9. Eduardo Nunez (505,000-to-1)
Nunez has essentially the same strengths as Segura -- a leadoff spot, a low walk rate and a solid (if not spectacular) batting average. Since the Twins have turned the lineup over less often than the D-backs, Nunez sits below Segura on this list.
10. Dustin Pedroia (538,000-to-1)
Batting immediately after Betts -- a younger version of himself -- at the top of Boston's mighty lineup, Pedroia gets his share of opportunities, and he can still hit. Along with Altuve, Betts and Revere, Pedroia is one of four players on this list standing 5-foot-9 or under, and it may take a shorter player to beat the long odds.

Jared Cross is a math teacher in Brooklyn and the creator of the Steamer Projection system. Follow him on Twitter @steamerpro.